Best Aurora In Years!

Green and pink auroral rays reach to the Big Dipper (upper right) last night around 11 p.m. The pink was too subtle to see with the eye, but the brighter greens were visible. A time exposure of 13 seconds recorded both colors. Photo: Bob King

Last night’s aurora was the best in years for the northern U.S. and southern Canada. What began as an amorphous arch of light in the northern sky around 8:30 p.m. evolved into spears of pale green light that shot nearly to the zenith. At the same time, brilliant yellowish curtains fluttered just above the northern horizon. What a night! I reluctantly went to bed around 12:30 with aurora still simmering behind silhouetted trees. Every time the display seemed to be subsiding, another ray or three would suddenly appear and stop me in my tracks. The BIG question is – will it happen again tonight? Maybe. The Space Weather Prediction Center is forecasting more storming through the 13th.

Andrew Krueger of Rice Lake Township sent this spectacular photo he took late last night of a very lively rayed arcs and swirls. Credit: Andrew Krueger

All this activity is connected to storms from big sunspot group 1164, which today moved to the sun’s backside, and particles streaming earthward from recent coronal holes


The color red was all over the maps last night. At left, red and orange indicate intense aurora; at right is a plot of the Kp index. Credit: NOAA

A look at the Kp index and plot of the auroral oval tells the story of last night’s display. You can see that the oval – the seat of the aurora – edged across the northern U.S. and into the northern sky. The oval expands and contracts in response to solar activity. Most of the time it’s snugged up around Hudson Bay, but last night it expanded southward into North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. When the Kp index, a marker of magnetic activity, reaches 5 or higher, magnetic storm-level activity and accompanying aurora wreak beautiful havoc.

It all began with a simple unassuming arc low in the northern sky around 8-8:30. Landscape illumination provided by the crescent moon. Photo: Bob King

I’ll always try to update when a storm might be or is happening, but it’s always a good idea – especially when the sun exhibits large sunspot groups and flares – to head over to the NASA POES site to see what the oval’s up to. You can check the Kp-index as well. Is a tall red bar up? Well, it might time to put on your coat and walk out the door for a look-see.

Last night's aurora over Birch Lake near Babbitt, Minn. taken by Ken Hupila

If you photographed last night’s aurora, I’d love to share your images with our readers. Please send them to me at: Thanks!

4 Responses

  1. Robert Hewitt

    I’m living in Lutsen area. At 10:45 last night I wrapped up working on taxes and looked outside into the Northern sky. I have not seen such vivid/colorful Northern Lights in years. At time there were vivid reds and oranges lower in the horizon. It was truly breathtaking. Sorry, I didn’t take any pics.

  2. Amanda M.

    KP is at 6 for tonight, and Clear Sky reports that we won’t be seeing anything close to decent viewing until 6pm tomorrow night, which will last for only an hour or two. I planned on taking my new Sony A33 out for a test, but no such luck. My inner toddler REALLY wants to throw a tantrum, right now..

    1. astrobob

      You’re right Amanda. The Kp looks great, but we’re overcast too. Anyone reading this who has clear skies, be sure to take a look and let us know.

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